The impact of drug and alcohol impairment on workplace safety is obvious and frequently tragic. With the wave of legislative change governing non-medical cannabis use taking place this year, can employers in BC also expect occupational health and safety (OHS) laws to change?
WorkSafeBC has indicated that, despite cannabis legalization taking place this year, it does not see a need to amend existing laws governing workplace impairment. The reason makes sense: any risk to worker safety caused by impairment on the job has long been prohibited, and there is nothing unique about cannabis which requires a change to this basic rule.
In BC, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation outlines three main prohibitions regarding workplace impairment. First, employees may not enter or remain at a workplace while impaired if that impairment may endanger workers. Similarly, employers must not knowingly permit an impaired worker to remain on site if the impairment may endanger worker safety. Finally, no other person, whether customer, supplier, or otherwise, is permitted to be on site while impaired if their presence may endanger worker safety. The bottom line is that in safety sensitive workplaces, no impaired person should be permitted on site.
Despite OHS laws remaining unchanged, WorkSafeBC is evaluating the range of tools Prevention Officers who are tasked with workplace inspections may need to ensure compliance. It is reasonable to expect some of these tools may be aimed at detecting workplace impairment, including cannabis use. WorkSafeBC has also indicated it will be reaching out to industry with educational materials about workplace impairment and existing regulations.
We have observed numerous instances of employees under an assumption that the impending legalization will provide greater leeway to report to work under the influence of cannabis. In a safety sensitive environment, this is a critical misunderstanding that exposes both the employee and employer to potential danger and liability. In order to mitigate this risk, it is highly recommended that employers consider implementing a drug and alcohol policy or amending their existing policies to incorporate cannabis use.